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The Big Sleep – the Depiction of Marlowe as a Modern-Day Knight

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The novel “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler was published in 1939 during the heart of the Great Depression. The novel is written in a very sinister, dark and kind of a gangster tone and carries much of the cynicism of 1930s America. The Big Sleep is a story of intrigue, corruption, delinquency and obliquity with a rather complex plot which can be very confusing. The main character in “the Big Sleep” is the private detective Philip Marlow who is very masculine man with values and a good moral.

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His strong moral is often evidenced throughout the novel.

Marlowe is the only one in this complex world who cannot be corrupted because the other characters are all described as sleazy, vampy and decadent. Considering all these aspects; Marlowe is different to all the other characters, somehow superior. This superiority is somehow underlined through the depiction of Marlowe in the novel. Marlowe embodies the characteristics of a knight in many different ways, namely through his morality, faithfulness, and symbolism throughout the novel.

There is a lot of imagery of knights in this novel and there is always a parallel between the imagery and Marlowe. Furthermore, the most evidential proof is Marlowe?s moral, exemplary and chivalrous behavior that is displayed throughout the whole novel which is giving point to the depiction of Marlowe as a knight. In particular, Philip Marlowe can be depicted as a modern-day knight as he is frequently compared to a knight through the imagery in the novel, his chivalrous behavior and his loyalty and commitment.

This thesis is going to be analyzed and reinforced within this essay through several examples and interpretations. The novel is full of symbols, metaphors and different themes and one of the most important and obvious ones is surely the symbol of the knights and hence the associated attributes. The importance of this symbol can not only seen by the fact that already at the beginning of the novel, at page three, a detailed description of a picture with a knight is mentioned.

This detailed description does not only underline the importance of this symbol but to a greater degree this imagery serves to point out the parallels between the ancient knight and the modern chivalry of the main character Philip Marlowe since it is obvious that these imagery of knights is used to prompt the reader in perceiving Marlowe as a modern-day knight. This imagery is therefore used to indirectly award Marlowe as a knight and that is also the way how he depicts himself.

As abovementioned, the beginning of the book serves as great example of that imagery when Marlowe is leaving to Sternwood?s house. In this scene, Marlowe describes himself as “wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be” (3). This very first description of Marlowe correlates exactly with the personification of the picture of a modern-day knight.

What was once the “shining armor” is nowadays the suit in combination with a tie. Marlowe is well dressed and especially he is sober as benefit for a noble man with honor equal as an ancient knight once was. After entering the house there is the next imagery in terms of a stained glass window that is recognized by Marlowe. The picture shows “A knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very convenient hair” (3).

Not only the fact that Marlowe is especially fascinated by this picture is distinctive but also the fact that he instantly has the feeling to help the knight in his rescue operation “if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him (3). Later on in the novel he somehow does rescuing the lady in person of Carmen Sternwood. This parallel between the picture and the novel is striking and creates the perception of Marlowe as a knight.. There is another passage where he is looking down at a chess board saying: “I looked down at the chess board. The move with the knight was wrong.

I put it back where I have moved it from. Knights had no meaning in this game” (95). It is clear that he depicts himself as the knight and he is referring to his cold case and the mistakes he has made so far in solving the crime. The sentence “knights had no meaning in this game” refers to his chivalrous behavior and that this has not been helpful so far in solving the crime and that frustrates him. Furthermore, his behavior has no meaning or value for the other characters that are included in this crime and he is instantly reminded that he is the only one in this “game” who is faithful and morally.

However, the description of chivalry is not only portrayed through the imagery in the novel but moreover through the behavior of Philip Marlowe. For hundreds of years, the knight is one of the most fascinating figures or motives of the history which has not lost his symbolic brightness and power. If one is looking for a definition of a knight it always includes certain terms like strong, noble, chivalrous, morally straight or protector of the weak as well as the existence of a certain code. According to this code it is the duty of a knight to protect women, children and to have faithfulness.

This is exactly the behavior that Marlowe displays throughout the novel. Within the novel there are several passages and examples that underline this behavior. An outstanding example is the salvation of Carmen when Marlowe rescues the completely naked Carmen and carries her away from the crime scene. Nevertheless, his chivalrous behavior continues through the fact that he did not take advantage of the situation and moreover is loyal to his employer and does not want him to see his daughter in this condition.

These are only some examples of his chivalrous behavior than underline the fact that this behavior depicts him as a knight. Throughout the novel there are many other situations where he acts knightly and finally he is able to stop “The Big Sleep” which in this context can be seen as the death or the killing. He stops the “The Big Sleep” while solving the crime which exceeded his proper mandate. Another chivalrous behavior is the fact that he does not take too much money for his job “ZITAT Wiveil geld er nimmt” only as much as he needs for living.

Furthermore, after finishing is proper mandate he continues solving the crime without even getting paid for it only in order to prevail peace and because his code requires him to do so. Another indication for Marlowe to be a modern-day knight is his loyalty and commitment to general Sternwood. Likewise knights in ancient times which have been loyal to their king and fought in battles for freedom and honor. This connection is transferable to Marlowe and general Sternwood. The main proof of this loyalty is shown in Marlowe?s iron will to solve the crime not only for himself but also for his employer Sternwood.

Right in the beginning of the novel it is also stated that Marlowe and Sternwood cherish and like each other which is another proof for Marlowe?s loyalty. In the scene where Marlowe finds Sternwood?s daughter Carmen completely drugged and naked he instantly removes her from the crime scene. Furthermore, he never tells his employer about the state of his daughter because he does not want to upset or embarrass him. This loyalty and the relation between Sternwood and Marlowe straightaway create the picture of a king and his knight.

The adherence of their code of chivalry and their acts of bravery made the knights remarkable not only as persons but rather as a symbol. Raymond Chandler used this symbol to equip his main character with the attributes of knights. Philip Marlowe is the reincarnation of a knight who is fighting for peace and the truth. In order to underline this picture of a knight, Chandler lets his character behave according to the act of the knights by letting him save women, protect the weak, fight against crime and resist temptation.

Moreover his moral behavior is portrayed in many different situations and this is what makes him superior to the other characters in the novel. Chandler has been successful in assigning the picture of a knight to its main character in the novel. Through his extraordinary writing skills Chandler was successful in manipulating the reader to acknowledge Marlowe as a modern-day knight without uttering this as a clear statement. In order to achieve this he continues using the images of knights and draws parallels to his main character.

Cite this The Big Sleep – the Depiction of Marlowe as a Modern-Day Knight

The Big Sleep – the Depiction of Marlowe as a Modern-Day Knight. (2017, Jan 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-big-sleep-the-depiction-of-marlowe-as-a-modern-day-knight/

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